Literacy and numeracy crisis in disadvantaged schools


Primary schools in disadvantaged areas are struggling to cope with a literacy and numeracy crisis among children, a confidential Department of Education report suggests. Seán Flynn, Education Editor, reports.

The report contains details of primary schools where over 55 per cent of children aged between five and 12 years were at the lowest level in maths and would need extra help to make progress.

The report Literacy and Numeracy in Disadvantaged Schools is based on an assessment of standards in 12 disadvantaged schools in Dublin, Limerick and Cork in March 2004.

It was due to be published last year but has yet to be issued.

On average, 25 per cent of students in the schools assessed suffered severe literacy difficulties. In the schools most seriously hit, up to 50 per cent of pupils had severe literacy problems.

The report says schools in disadvantaged areas are struggling to attract or retain teachers. Many of the weakest students in the State are being taught by unqualified teachers. This will increase the pressure for a special incentive scheme for teachers who opt to work in these schools.

The report also says teachers in these areas have not been given adequate training to help them assist children in desperate need of specialist support.

It also details a chronic level of absenteeism in these schools. In one school, some 49 per cent of pupils were absent for over a month during the school year.

The Department of Education conceded that efforts to combat disadvantage are not working. The report, prepared for its chief inspector, Eamonn Stack, calls for a more focused and coherent approach to educational disadvantage.

Schools in poorer areas, it says, have three times more students with severe numeracy difficulties than the average school. It praises the dedication and commitment of teachers. But it would like to see a much closer partnership between classroom teachers and learning support teachers.

The report also paints a bleak picture of the prospects for children with numeracy and learning difficulties. Many, it says, will struggle to cope in a society and an economy where such skills are essential.

Some school communities, it finds, are characterised by high levels of unemployment, single-parent families, low levels of parental education, lack of pre-school facilities, substance abuse, poor diet, absenteeism and a lack of parental involvement in schools.

The report recommends:

Much more coherent planning at school level in disadvantaged areas.

The setting of specific learning objectives for literacy and numeracy.

Changes in teaching methods. A "one size fits all" approach to teaching does not work with children struggling with literacy and numeracy difficulties.

TUI says 1,200 new teachers needed: page 3